AACC Launches Community College Innovation Challenge


The Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC) provides an opportunity for teams of two-to-four students to work with a faculty or administrator mentor on solutions to real-world problems.

The national CCIC is designed to enable community college students to discover and demonstrate their capacity to use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to make a difference in the world.

The competition, which the American Association of Community Colleges is offering in partnership with the National Science Foundation, also provides an avenue to strengthen and further develop students’ entrepreneurial and strategic communication skills.

Up to 10 finalist teams will compete at the Virtual Innovation Book Camp (June 14-17) where they will receive coaching, mentoring, and instruction to help them refine their ideas in advance of a virtual poster session and a pitch presentation. The poster session will be open to an audience of STEM and Congressional stakeholders. 

Each member of the top teams will receive monetary awards: First place team members will each receive $3,000; second place $2,000; and third place $1,000. All participants will receive certificates. 

STEM-based solutions are due by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on April 20.

“CCIC was a huge validation for someone like myself who came from nothing, was never told could be anything. I am a single mother with two kids and a passion for research in biotechnology, but many times I doubt my abilities and ideas. One day I hope to use my passion to direct translational research and bring biotechnology to market for the greater good.”

- Reavelyn Pray, Past CCIC Participant

A.S. Biotechnology, Del Mar College (Texas)

B.S. Cellular and Molecular Biology, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Pray is a research associate at Natera.

Phase I – Develop Ideas, Inventions, and Innovations
1. Assemble a Community College Team

Organize a team with two to four students (interdisciplinary if possible) and a faculty or administrator mentor. Read the CCIC Guidelines and register all team members at www.aaccinnovationchallenge.com

2. Develop Breakthrough Ideas

Identify a problem of local or global concern; develop an innovative solution; assess its potential impact and feasibility; discuss how the innovation will be implemented in a real-world scenario. 

3. Attend CCIC Application Idea Vetting Session on March 18

This optional session is an opportunity for students to receive feedback about their ideas prior to submitting an application. During this virtual event students may ask questions and informally pitch their ideas for feedback from a previous CCIC judge, a former student participant, an AACC representative, and a representative from the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), which is a collaborator on the CCIC.

4. Prepare Written Entry

Write a clear, succinct description of the problem. Describe the team’s innovative solution, its unique qualities, and the challenges that must be overcome to make it happen. Explain how the team would measure the impact and benefit of the solution if it is implemented.

5. Prepare 90-second Video Entry

Create a compelling video that articulates the problem, explains the team’s proposed solution, describes how it would be implemented; and shares insights not in the written entry.

6. Submit Entries by April 20

Upload the essay and video, and complete all information requirements by 11:59 p.m., April 20.

A review panel of NSF, AACC, and community college experts will evaluate the entries, giving equal weight to the following criteria:

  • Innovation & Impact
  • Feasibility
  • Clarity of Communication

Up to 10 of the highest-scoring entries will be selected for the final round of the competition. Finalists will be announced in early May.

Phase II – Prepare for Finalists’ Competition
May 7: Attend the Welcome & Orientation to the Virtual Innovation Boot Camp Webinar

Expectations for contestants and the agenda for the Virtual Innovation Boot Camp will be explained during the one-hour webinar. The virtual poster session and pitch presentation will be discussed. Guidance on mentoring and coaching support will be provided. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions of CCIC organizers.

May 11: Attend the Customer Discovery Journey in STEM Innovation Webinar

The Customer Discovery Journey—a key element of the preparation for the professional development that will occur during the Virtual Innovation Boot Camp—will be explained during the one-hour webinar. In addition to the Customer Discovery assignment that must be completed, teams will be expected to develop responses to questions about the business model for their innovations.

May 11 to June 11: Carry out Customer Discovery Process

Complete tasks that explore the viability of an innovation to make it desirable, available, and affordable in the real world. Begin work on a virtual poster.

June 14 to June 17: Attend the Virtual Innovation Boot Camp

The Virtual Innovation Boot Camp is designed as an interactive, encouraging environment where finalists will learn from experts and other competitors. In addition to informing students’ preparation of posters and pitches, all the programming aims to sharpen students’ business acumen and give them skills that can be applied to other projects.

Elite industry leaders and entrepreneurs will talk with the community college students about business planning, stakeholder engagement, communication, and marketplace dynamics.

A distinguished panel of judges will assess the finalist teams’ representations of their innovations during the virtual poster session and evaluate the merits, value, and potential viability of the ideas during the pitch presentations. A team must perform well in both activities to win.

“At a time when the world needs inventive thinking as never before, the American Association of Community Colleges is delighted to offer this student competition in partnership with the National Science Foundation. We are excited to see students’ breakthrough ideas to address problems—from local to global concerns the students select—and to provide tools that transform those ideas into society-benefitting innovations,” said Ellen Hause, AACC program director for Academic and Student Affairs.